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Trema (was: French spelling scheme)

From:Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Friday, May 4, 2001, 17:57
At 11:55 am +0200 3/5/01, Christophe Grandsire wrote:
>En réponse à Andreas Johansson <and_yo@...>: > >> >> What's the origin of the diaerisis? And the trema for that matter? The >> origin of the umlaut is a small superscript "e". In Swedish, the word >> "trema" us used for the diacritic[1], so it's only another name for >> umlaut, >> or? >> > >Well, in French, "umlaut" and "diérèse" (diaeresis) are names for linguistic >phenomena (umlaut is the diachronic phenomenon that produced fronting of >stem-vowels in Germanic when there was an ending in -i, as well as the >synchronic grammatical phenomenon occuring because of it, while diérèse is the >phenomenon of putting a hiatus between two vowels and not pronouncing them >as a >diphtongue) while the name for the diacritic is "tréma".
The same distinction exists in theory in English, and dictionaries list the word _trema_ - but I've never seen it used or heard anyone use the term. It would be better IMO if we had followed French usage on this but, alas, we don't. The result is that we now use 'umlaut' and 'di(a)ereis' both for linguistic phenomena & for the double-dot diacritic - and it can be confusing when people use, e.g. the word 'umlaut' to denote 'diaeresis'! Also, although the word _umlaut_ was first to denote the diachronic fronting of vowels stems in German caused by an ending (more often than not later dropped) with /i/ in it (a common feature in the Celticlangs also), the term is now used also of similar effects caused by /a/, c.f. Welsh _gwyn_ (<-- *windo-) "white" [masc.] ~ _gwen_ (<-- *winda); Icelandic has examples of similar phenomenon caused by /u/. So linguists will talk of i-umlaut (the common type), a-umlaut and u-umlaut, according the vowel that triggered of the diachronic change. The trouble is, of course, a-umlaut and u-umlaut are also commonly used to mean 'a with trema' and 'u with trema', and I've certainly come across i-umlaut used to mean 'i with trema' where, of course, no umlaut is involved - it's diaeresis! Ach y fi!
>As for its origin, for >what I've gathered it has different origins in Romance and Germanic languages. >In Germanic languages it would be the simplification of a superscript "i", in >Romance languages it would be the simplification of a superscript "e".
No, no no - for as Andreas Johansson wrote: [snip]
> >You have got those two the wrong way around, or? At any rate, I'm positive >that the "umlaut" diacritic in German and Swedish descend from earlier >superscripte "e"s. This is what all books I've read that deals with the >subject says, it's supported by the alternative spellings {ae}, {oe} and >{ue}
Absolutely correct as far as German & the other Germanic languages are concerned. But Christophe is being a bit 'Romano-centric' in calling the use of trema to denote diaeresis 'Romance' usage. In fact it's not uncommon in Welsh and has, occasionally, been used in English and can be found in other languages as well. This use is more than 2000 years old and was first used - and still is used - by the Greeks, who also gave us the word _diaeresis_ :) It was used by Greek grammarians to show that an iota or ypsilon was to be pronounced separately and not form a diphthong with the preceeding vowel - i.e. diaeresis. It is now used by different languages to show a vowel which keeps its vocalic nature, e.g. English: Brontë /brQnti/ (a surname) Welsh: copïau /kQ'pia1/ "copies' [plural] - _i_ would normally be a semivowel in this position Spanish: vergüenza [Ber'gwenTa] "shame" - _gue_ would be [ge]. As for why the Hellenist Greek grammarians used a double-dot, I don't know. Ray. ========================================= A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language. [J.G. Hamann 1760] =========================================


John Cowan <jcowan@...>